Subtle Splendor

Luke 12:32-40

[Watch sermon here.]

Jesus preaches,
“Make for yourselves wallets that don’t wear out—
a treasure in heaven that never runs out.
No thief comes near there, and no moth destroys.”

There is not an occasional break-in into our soul,
but a serial robbery: a constant infiltration of voices
that burglarizes our focus and besieges us with distractions.

Jesus warns us to be alert to subtler things.

Be ready! Be awake! Don’t take your eye off the treasure in heaven.

For the kin-dom of God is not like Times Square.
It does not obnoxiously shine megawatts of lights on you,
flashing until it forces you into an addictive, mindless coma.
Sure, God sometimes works loudly and boldly.
Yet God always acts invitationally and compassionately,
offering us what is good for us instead of what is unhealthy;
wholesome foods instead of junk food;
lasting goods rather than cheap items from China you have to chuck.

The commonwealth of God is like
a treasure chest waiting to be discovered.
In you. In others. In the earth.

There is something about God’s treasure
that it is unassuming. It cannot be bought.
It cannot be sold.

The kin-dom of God doesn’t need to pay for ads.
It is subtle like a bird calling from a tree.
A rustle of leaves.
A person breathing beside us.
Our own heart beating.

Priceless. Priceless.
Gems hidden in plain sight.

The kin-dom of God is like the story of
Paul Heiple, who joined a group of plant-lovers
weeding out invasive plants in Edgewood County Park in California.
The invasive weeds were like the advertisements in Times Square.
They were sooo loud, and sooo pushy. (1)

This was particularly true of the yellow star thistle,
an invasive plant originally from Turkey.

There, in Edgewood Park, the yellow star
had taken over most of a field
and moved into other remote parts of the park.

The yellow star was engaged in a serial robbery
of the riches of the soil; it stole space and edged out rare plants.

Looking at the yellow star,
this group of plant-lovers said, We have to slow this down.

Paul Heiple and the group
would go over once a week to sit at the edge
of this massive field of yellow star and pull for hours.

They would only make a couple of feet of progress.
Yet, they kept returning because they wanted
to save the last of the rare plants in this park.

The government aided by releasing bio-controls, or bugs.
The bugs ate the yellow star.
The rodents also moved in and
began chewing the seedheads to eat the bugs.
That was a start.

Yellow star has a ten-year seed bank,
which means a seed can last and sprout up to ten years
after it leaves its parent plant.

This made eliminating yellow star a challenge.

The group discovered that you could mow this annual strategically
when it began to sprout up.

So, mowers came and began to mow down the yellow star.

Then, the money dried up for the mowing.

Still the group came and hand-pulled the weeds,
leaving piles of yellow star six to ten feet high in the woods.

Now, in a very special part of the park,
marked by metamorphic rocks and rich soil,
native wildflowers began to sprout up
once they had removed the yellow star.

Coyote mint bloomed. Clay mariposa lilies sprouted up.
White with flecks of red.
Narrow leaf milkweed began to flourish.
Now there are thousands of stems of the milkweed,
which is the food of the bay checkered spot butterfly,
which had gone extinct in the area.

Because they removed the noxious weeds,
the butterflies can return home.

There are, of course, still more invasive plants to remove,
but already the native biodiversity is flourishing.

Life is like that.
When we pull back the loud invasive weeds clamoring for attention,
we see the subtle splendor that God desires to share with us.

Where your time is, where your money is,
there your treasure shall be, too.
One that butterflies visit
and moths can’t destroy.

A treasure that endures.
A beating heart.

God gives treasure to us freely.
God is not coercive or profit-driven.
God is like the trees.

Trees make oxygen that give us the breath of life.
Yet, most people do not usually think about them.

Trees have a fascinating inner life,
subtle but also wondrous,
like the ocean, which just look likes water
but holds so much incredible life underneath the surface.

Trees talk to teach other through fungal networks;
tree communities have mother trees that feed saplings;
some species will send over food to another when it is sick. (2)

Trees are not passive.
They don’t just bloom where they are planted.
They behave.
They use chemicals to change the soil if they don’t like it.
They grow in certain ways if they want more sunlight.
They find ways to attract predators that will eat the bugs that are eating them. They are active participants in their environment. (3)

Sure, God sometimes acts like a strike of lightning.
More often, I find God is like the trees who love us well.
Always there, giving us life,
even when we do not notice.

Do not be afraid, little flock.
It is God’s good pleasure to give us the kin-dom.
To share the commonwealth with us.
This treasure. This earth.

Do not be afraid, little flock.
It is God’s good pleasure to give you the kin-dom.
To give you kinship.
To give you love.

The things of tenderness that fills us with delight.
Equality. Softness. Life.

The things we long for.
It is God’s good pleasure to give them to us.

Remove the ruckus of weeds.
Turn off the advertisements of Times Square.
Receive the beauty God desires for you.
The lasting wonder and goodness.

It is God’s good pleasure to love you in all your humanity.
Your foibles and your triumphs.
It is God’s good pleasure to delight in you.

Do not be afraid.

You are God’s good pleasure.


(1) This story came from the podcast In Defense of Plants, episode 359 “Removing Monocultures and Boosting Biodiversity.”

(2) I learned these facts about trees from the book The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben.

(3) I learned these facts about plants from the book Lessons from Plants by Beronda Montgomery.

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